About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Jesus and the Multiverse

It’s been more than two years since I read Mark Robson’s Ontology and Providence in Creation (now out in paperback for the more reasonable sum of £24.99), but some of the ideas proposed therein continue to bounce around my head. If I’ve understood Robson’s main argument correctly, the divine act of creation from nothing means that God could not have known how creation was going to turn out. On this account, we might read: ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God said, “Ah, so that’s what light is.”’ The point is that if creation is truly ex nihilo, absolutely nothing could condition its form. There is only the decision to create that which is not God (though presumably that decision does condition the ontology of creation, that it should not be God – see below). It’s a radical proposal, in my opinion, and deserves attention.

Moreover, Robson’s proposal fits in with what we know about the origins of our universe. Around 13.7 billion years ago, our universe came into existence through an event many call the Big Bang. But many physicists these days champion the existence of the multiverse, meaning that our own universe is but one of many and quite probably – as far as I understand the argument’s thrust – one of an infinite number. Each universe differs from all the others, and each universe is self-enclosed in its own cosmic bubble, so to speak. Consequently, we cannot know these other universes; it’s maths that informs us of their reality. Related to this, it seems to me, is an idea that once each universe comes to an end, another emerges from its remnants. While our universe is 13.7 billion years old, it could be that creation itself is far older, and that the Big Bang is not God’s initial act of creation but the death throes of a previously existing universe.

Robson’s proposal allows for the existence of a multiverse. When God created, it could well be that what emerged was the multiverse, containing an infinite number of universes, each with its trillions of stars, planets and whatnot. Again, as far as I understand the physicists’ arguments, chances are that each universe functions according to its own set of natural laws and so on; the chances of, say, human life as we know it appearing in any of these other universes are slim. But clearly, in our own universe, on this planet, human life did emerge, and God has not abandoned it. If God’s initial act of creation indeed produced the multiverse, God is aware that in our universe, we exist – and that we are capable of relationship with God.

Of course, the Christian faith requires there to be a christological element in this picture. So what shall we say? Assuming that Robson’s argument that creatio ex nihilo means nothing more than that God created from no substance and no idea about what creation would be like, we can say these things:

1. The triune God willed (or decided) that there should be something other than God, and that this other should be created through the Son and open to God’s presence through the work of the Spirit. Of course, this determines the ontology of creation to a certain extent – that it shall be open to God despite not being God – but it does nothing to determine the laws of physics, the number of worlds, the presence of human life, and so on.

2. The triune God’s act of creation from nothing could have produced the multiverse, of which our universe is but one. And it could be that our universe is the only universe that harbours life of any kind.

3. Scripture only deals with God’s relation to life on our planet – and this is to be expected. But it does mean that there is no need to assume that the existence of the multiverse contradicts the scriptural presentation of God’s relation to this world. We simply cannot know anything for sure about other universes, other than that, on the basis of what Jesus has revealed about God, God loves them and will not abandon them.

4. Amos Yong has recently argued that sin only becomes an issue through humanity’s relationship with God. On this basis, and assuming that no other universe contains human life, we can speculate that the fallenness of creation applies to our universe alone, which means that the incarnation of the eternal Son is for our universe alone. But there must be some kind of impact on the multiverse as a whole, because the eternal Son is the one through whom all things were made – and presumably, the act of the eternal Son taking on eternal flesh in and for our universe will echo through all other universes, too.

5. If the triune God creates ex nihilo, there could have been no plan for the eternal Son to become incarnate until at least the emergence of humanity in this universe. Does this commit us to an infralapsarian notion of election, or ought we to adopt a more priestly account of election whereby humanity is called to be the priests of creation?

6. The age to come may be dependent in part on this age – that is, this current universe – coming to an end. But the Spirit is already at work through the resurrection of Jesus to show us the natural laws of the age to come.

7. And finally, if the age to come is dependent on this age, it could well be that despite having different – transformed? – natural laws, the age to come would take its basic shape from this age. It is this age that is ex nihilo, but the age to come is described as being constituted of a new heaven and a new earth.

I’m aware that all this is highly provisional and not especially well-ordered. Much of it probably stems from a faulty understanding of theories relating to the multiverse and cosmology. (Anyone who knows anything about the multiverse, string theory, etc., etc. – unless you’re Dr Sheldon Cooper – is more than welcome to correct me on these things, or to fill in the gaps I’ve inevitably left open.) But if the multiverse is a reality, the risen Jesus must be Lord of all worlds, and not just this one, and it’s helpful to speculate about what all this could mean.